The October roar is back. The October chills are back. The October Dodgers are back.
A baseball rose from struggling Chris Taylor’s wildest imagination and floated into a city’s wildest dreams Wednesday night, landing in legend and legacy and the Dodger Stadium left-field pavilion.
Cue the bouncing blue home-plate mosh pit. Cue Chavez Ravine rocking from its ancient core. Cue “I Love L.A.!”
And, yes, yes, yes, bring on the Giants!
In a wild walk-off ending to a wild National League wild-card game, moments after taking a wild whiff befitting of his .121 September average, Taylor desperately drove a ninth-inning, two-out pitch from the St. Louis Cardinals’ Alex Reyes into the mass of dancing humanity in left field for a two-run home run to break a lengthy 1-all tie and give the Dodgers a 3-1 victory.
The ball was gone as soon as he hit it. The 53,193 fans knew it. They’ve been waiting two years to fill the stadium for a moment like this. Their roar said it. The rumbling stands felt it.
Taylor also knew it was gone. He’s been waiting his entire six-year career for a hit like it. His raised right arm signified it. His three claps as he rounded first base counted it.
One clap for each run. One clap for each win required to win the upcoming series of a lifetime.
Yes, it’s really happening, with this victory, the Dodgers will now meet those gawd-awful San Francisco Giants in a true postseason series — not a regular-season playoff series — for the first time in the teams’ 131-year rivalry.
It’s taken 2,535 games, but finally they will duel in playoff October when they begin a best-of-five National League Division Series on Friday at San Francisco’s Oracle Park.
All this, 70 years after Bobby Thomson’s infamous “Shot Heard ’Round The World” gave the Giants a pennant-winning playoff victory over the Dodgers.
All this, after Taylor’s shot heard ’round the Ravine.
“It’s what baseball wants,” said manager Dave Roberts. “One of the greatest rivalries in sports. It’s happening.”
A small gathering of fans who collected in the field-level seats above the Dodgers dugout ended the night with a chant.
“Beat the Giants!”
Just another night with wild, wonderful October Dodgers.
“These are one of the moments you dream about and live for,” said Taylor. “I’ll be able to look back at this for the rest of my life.”
The moment was actually staged in the top of the ninth, with the game tied 1-1 after the Cardinals scored in the first inning on Max Scherzer's wild pitch and the Dodgers countered in the fourth on Justin Turner's homer.
After seemingly endless scoreless innings filled with broken bats and missed chances, like two heavyweights swinging it out the final round, both teams took their finals shots.
In the top of the ninth, the Cardinals put the go-ahead run on second base with one out against Kenley Jansen after Tommy Edman singled and stole second. But Jansen, fighting to restore his October mojo, struck out Paul Goldschmidt looking. Then, after running the count to 3-and-1 against Tyler O’Neill and watching a sure double fall a few feet foul in the right-field corner, Jansen struck out O’Neill on a 93-mph cutter.
O’Neill threw his bat. Jansen pounded his chest. The stage had been set.
With the crowd wailing to “Seven Nation Army,” T.J. McFarland took the mound in the bottom of the ninth and, with two out, inexplicably walked the .165-hitting Cody Bellinger. Then, on a one-and-one pitch to Taylor — who began the plate appearance with a wild swing — Bellinger stole second.
Cue the hero.
“Honestly, I was just trying to hit a single, not trying to do too much, and he gave me a good slider to hit and I was able to get it up in the air,” said Taylor. “I was trying to keep things small, think small, big things happens.”
Huge things. Hugging things. Dancing things. Champagne things. Dodgers things.
Even as the game sputtered along in a tie, did anybody really doubt the defending World Series champions weren’t going to pull this off? Can anybody reasonably doubt that this win could springboard them to a second consecutive title?
“It’s exciting,” said Roberts. “To get through an elimination game, it took our entire roster to get through it, so hats off to the players, coming up in big spots. There were no built-in excuses. We were prepared to win a ballgame.”
On a night filled with twists and turns and breaths constantly being held throughout the city, the only constant was the emotion pouring through Chavez Ravine, fans letting loose long-awaited playoff screams accompanied by star-studded guests.
There was Russell Westbrook leading cheers on the scoreboard. There was the Washington Nationals’ Juan Soto leading cheers from behind home plate while wearing a throwback Trea Turner jersey. There was Magic Johnson waving a blue towel next to the Dodgers’ dugout.
“For 50,000 plus to be screaming, jumping up and down on their feet in excitement, it’s something you don’t forget,” said Turner, who has a Dodgers’ record 13 career postseason homers and is consistently money in October.
In the end, despite the game’s constant excitement, this whole exercise was crazy. By winning 106 games and finishing with the second-best record in baseball, there’s no way the Dodgers should have been thrown into this one-game madness. They earned a full series.
Before the game, Roberts agreed.
“Can I sit here and say this is not ideal after winning X amount of games? It’s not ideal,” he said. “But it is what it is and I don’t want or expect our guys to think otherwise.”
They didn’t. There were no hard feelings, only serious hardball in a game in which the Dodgers scratched and scraped and hung in there until their October magic reappeared and blasted its way over the left-field fence.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.